Tory sleaze: Boris Johnson and his acolytes are subverting British democracy because they think they are untouchable – Tommy Sheppard MSP
In many other countries, he would be long gone. True, his popularity is plummeting in the polls. True, Westminster is rife with rumours about Cabinet ministers setting up offices for their Tory leadership bids. But after two years of misdemeanour and mismanagement, he’s still there.
Perhaps it’s because he had a massive credit in the chutzpah bank to begin with. But that characteristic bullishness is part of the problem.
We shouldn’t be surprised that Johnson has played fast and loose with democracy. After all, he has form. Even before the last general election, he illegally prorogued parliament and lied to the Queen. It is, however, astonishing what he has got away with and for how long.
In some ways, we have Owen Paterson to thank for drawing back the veil on sleaze and corruption. Remember him? A Tory MP until he resigned in disgrace a month ago. Healthcare company Randox paid Paterson £8,333 a month for 16 hours work. After Paterson’s approach to ministers, they landed a contract for testing kits worth £133 million.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards found Paterson guilty and ordered a slap on the wrist – suspension for 30 days. Most people might have quietly accepted the admonition. Not Paterson. Not Johnson.
Staggeringly, they set about overturning the Commissioner’s recommendation in the House of Commons. Journalists reported Tory MPs were being threatened with losing government funding in their constituencies to make them toe the line. They got it through, only to renege and throw Paterson to the wolves when the press and public reaction made his defence untenable.
Meanwhile, over in the House of Lords, the stench is even stronger. Lord Cruddas is a financier once named the richest man in the City of London. He’s given £4 million to the Tories over the years. The House of Lords Appointments Committee ruled unanimously against making the businessman a Lord. Johnson overruled the committee, the first Prime Minister ever to do so.
Cruddas was made a Lord in 2020. And get this: we know from just-published Electoral Commission records that he gave a further £500k to the Tories three days after his appointment. It stinks to high heaven.
There’s a bigger picture here. The Tories are also seeking to restrict the Electoral Commission, requiring it to conform to a ‘strategy and policy statement’. This means that sitting government ministers will be giving political direction to the adjudicator of our elections and regulator of party donations.
If this happened anywhere else, it would rightly be condemned as undermining the integrity and independence of elections.
It comes alongside the Dissolution and Calling of Parliaments Bill, which centralises the power over election timing in the hands of the Prime Minister alone, with no parliamentary oversight. Then there’s the policing bill, which curtails the right to protest and weakens judicial review.
All of this is orchestrated by Johnson and his acolytes. They think they are untouchable. But history has a way of catching up with wrongdoers.
Meanwhile, the reek of Westminster corruption is just one more reason why people in Scotland might want to take control of their own affairs and develop a process of government which is fair, transparent, and accountable.